Archive for the ‘Dana Andrews’ Category

Tobacco Road

18 Feb

Tobacco Road — directed by John Ford. Rural Comedy. Will the old folks be shunted out of their shanty on Tobacco Road? 84 minutes Black and White 1941.

* * *

Does John Ford think we’re all stupid? I have never understood the eminence into which this director fell – or perhaps he always belonged there – as a sub-popular entertainer. His sentimentality, his crude humor, his encouragement of excess in his performers, his delight in the sound ethics of a fistfight. It’s all here, Ward Bond included, playing a love-silly hick whose infant wife has run off to Atlanta. The whole thing is directed as though it were a Warner Brothers cartoon, with violence and improbability at every turn. Charlie Grapewin and Elizabeth Patterson play the old folks, and Grapewin is as supercharged as Paterson is American Gothic. Society-bitch actress Gene Tierney, smeared with hog-dirt, skulks behind the shrubs like Moonbeam McSwine in L’il Abner. William Tracy as a rageaholic nitwit does not bear looking at as he creates mayhem wherever his nasty nature drives him. The Broadway play was the longest running play in the history of the American theatre. The novel on which it is based is a trove of rich humor, funny in and of itself, written by America’s greatest short story writer and the finest novelist of his day, as Faulkner and all the others admitted, Erskine Caldwell. But Ford thinks Caldwell needs improving, as though Mark Twain needed slapstick to entertain. The material was supposed to be salacious. Which meant that these hillbillies got married and unmarried without ceremony, but in Caldwell that is not dirty, it simply a piece of the human comedy. And then…and then…you find Ford taking a picture of Elizabeth Patterson’s sad face as she faces homelessness And then Ford places them on the long walk to the poor farm pressed against a hard sky, two old people who have no place to go but down and a hard walk to get there, and you can forgive much. And then you realize that it is all being shot by Arthur Miller a great cinemaphotographer. And that whatever is being given us is in a very meritorious partnership. And that whatever it is, it is professionally done to the maximum. For essentially Ford is a storyteller’s eye. Then you remember Stagecoach a masterpiece. Then you take a star and you add it to the two you sourly accorded it, and you say no more.



Ball Of FIre

09 Oct

Ball Of Fire – Directed by Howard Hawks. Screwball Comedy. A virginal professor meets up with a tootsie chanteuse. 111 minutes Black and White 1941,

* * * *

Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett wrote this version of Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs, with Dana Andrews as The Wicked Stepmother, Gary Cooper as Snow White, and Barbara Stanwyck as the ball of fire that wakes him from his sexual sleep. Because it is inauthentic, Cooper’s naïve style dates badly, and the film dates too. This is most noticeable when compared to Hawks’ intolerable A Song Is Born made only seven years later with the exact same script, set, setups, cameraman (Gregg Toland), and even Miss Totten.  Why? World War II had intervened and America was naïve no longer. Yet of the two versions, this is the more swallowable. First of all, Gary Cooper is a prettier object of romance than Danny Kaye, and second of all Barbara Stanwyck. It’s a shame Stanwyck did not make more comedies. The War may have killed that too. She had spunk, a strong breezy style, and a rich sense of humor that fit perfectly into the works of Capra, Sturges, and Hawks. Here she is a bunch of fun as the tart, sexually insolent singer on the lam in a refuge of encyclopeaists. These seven dwarfs are played in the lost manner of the time by the great S. Z. Sakall, Oscar Homolka, Henry Travers, Leonid Kinsky, and others. The brilliant Dan Duryea is on hand as a henchman as is the sparky Elisha Cook Jr as a waiter. Hawks had a ten-year run of huge hits – Bringing Up Baby, Only Angels Have Wings, His Girl Friday, Sargent York, Air Force, To Have And To Have Not, The Big Sleep, Red River, I Was A Male War Bride, The Thing – and this was one of them. It is the most forced of all his comedies, and like all of them it is an owl and the pussycat story, of a person heading toward the cliff of convention being rescued against his will by a ruthless eccentric. A fundamental human sexual predicament, that is to say, one that is still recognizable despite, or perhaps even more recognizable because of our modern sexual liberation.





Canyon Passage

05 May

Canyon Passage. Directed by Jacques Tourneur. Gold-rush Western. A successful entrepreneur defends his friend against all odds. 92 minutes Color 1946.

* * * * *

What a gorgeous picture! It is the result of the Technicolor process which was tricky to film with and required the services of  Natalie Kalmus who ran the always-rented cumbersome Technicolor camera. But the results are phenomenal here, rich, deep, and satisfying. The outdoor sequences are done in the Gold Country of the California Sierras, in view of lakes and rivers and forests of supernal beauty. And the film itself unfolds with all this casually moved through, in unemphatic episodes, which seem barely to constitute a story but hold one’s attention for that very reason. Its woodland mountain setting is going to prohibit the big action scenes of open-plains Westerns, and in this it’s going to be similar to Allan Dwan’s later film Tennessee’s Partner with John Payne and Ronald Reagan, that is to say, it’s going to be a homo-bonding story. In this, the far more interesting one, the male romance is between Dana Andrews and Brian Donlevy. Donlevy is a funny actor, short, build square, with a large handsome head and a big masculinity to throw around, he nonetheless is curiously sympathetic as the banker who steals deposits. His morning ritual upon arriving on the set: 1) insert dentures; 2) don hairpiece; 3) strap on corset; 4) lace up “elevator” shoes. This may have given him the stuffed look he always possessed, that of a little lunk who did not move well, but moved impressively, and it also probably formally framed a character who is going to be weak and yet sympathetic. One of the great shots in the movie is taken from below in profile, his left eye gleaming with doubt as to whether he should go and murder someone. In both pictures, that someone is a drunken prospector. Another similarity circles around two females and the hero’s resistance to marriage. In both instances, the females are red heads, here Susan Hayward in her leading lady days. She has marvelous carriage and a bold attitude in every scene, which makes her monotonously redoubtable, but effective. The star is Dana Andrews who moves through the picture, here, as always, retaining his secrets. His naturalness on screen is remarkable. The quietude he carries and the interesting timbre of his voice when he speaks and the mobility of his face when he responds make him a fine film actor, one of a few who look okay in suit-roles, as here, where he plays a merchant prince in the making. Andy Devine and his actual sons are in the picture as is a young, sexy actor doing good work, Lloyd Bridges, but the astonishing performance is that of Ward Bond as the bully ogre. What with his pre-fab performances in John Ford films, we never imagine he could act, but see him here (and also in On Dangerous Ground), and you will be moved and amazed by the way he seizes the opportunities provided by the script — which is a really quite good and eccentric one. In brief: a richly visual, beautifully directed, and unusual Western entertainment.


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